On August 22nd, 2016, two young men I didn’t know attacked me in Carice Milice Street on Zeleni Venac. I was coming back to the rented apartment we moved into after the members of Neo-Nazi group Kombat18 broke into my apartment on Vidikovac in autumn 2013.
It happened like this. I was walking down the street and two men stopped in front of me. I was confused, because they looked quite ordinary. I tried to walk around them, but one of them asked: Where are you running to, faggot? And then he said: We know who you are. Why do you need a Parade and all that shit? I said to them: Guys, there’s really no need for this. One of them put his hand on my shoulder. I knew it was a bad sign. I had nowhere to run. They were in front of me, to my left were the stores and to my right, the street. The sidewalk in that street is very narrow. They hit me first in the shoulder and then in the head. I looked up and saw at least eight people standing around me. An elderly woman with grey hair and a blue suit just stood by, watching, purse dangling from her crossed arms. A girl smoking and standing in the doorway of the nearby grocery store shouted Hey! at the men and pointed to the camera above the door. Trapped, I awaited the next blow. However, they pushed me away and walked on shouting: Faggot, here’s a faggot, everyone!
I moved to the side and called the police, who came after about twenty minutes. I explained what happened and then spent several hours at the police station. I gave the statement three times. I was on the phone with my partner Adam. I left a comment on Facebook, which was immediately picked up by all the media. My phone kept ringing. After a few hours, I went home. That day, and the following day, I gave countless statements to the media. I felt it was important to share what had happened to me. The majority of people don’t believe that gay people are being beaten on a daily basis.
After two days, I received a phone call from Stari grad police station to identify the attackers. I was impressed with their efficiency. Two officers were at the station when I came in. One of them completely ignored me and the other was polite. He asked me to look at the photos that were on his desk. They were taken from the security camera, people in them were shown from above, but still close enough to see their faces. I pointed out the two attackers. Without a word, the policeman removed the photos and put out a set of new ones. I said: Yes, I remember, this one and this one. The policeman said: The photos are blurry. I said they were not. He said: Fuck it, man, the photos are blurry, there’s nothing we can do. Confused, I left the station.
Following the media frenzy, I got a lot of threats on social media. The ones that contained I know where you live or I saw you leaving the building had to be reported. After a couple of days, I met the inspectors of the Belgrade Police Department to go through all of them. On the stairs of the building in Despota Stefana Street, I run into the head of Belgrade police Veselin Milic. He asked me how I was and said he was sorry about the attack. He asked me if I had a minute, Somebody would like to see me. A policeman then took me to Somebody’s office. I forgot his last name, which Milic told me. I was tired, exhausted and fed up. I was in the meeting room, with dark curtains waiting for somebody to come in or something. At the other end of the table, I saw somebody’s hands. He told me that he was sorry about everything that happened and warned me not to talk so much about it in the media, since it affects the investigation. He told me I could go. I don’t remember the name or the face of that person, because I only saw his hands. After I came home and told Adam what happened, we both realized that it was not good and decided to leave, to run away. We inquired about Canadian visas and filed an application within a week.
A few weeks later, Pride organizers met with minister Jadranka Joksimovic. The plan was to have the minister and her staff in her office, we come in, photographers and cameras commemorate the handshakes (which take ridiculously long in situations like this) and then to ask the media to leave. When we shook hands and posed for the photographs, the minister asked: How are you? I was following everything that happened closely. You are in the media a lot. You should tone it down, we wouldn’t want tabloids Kurir and Informer to get involved. Then she turned to my colleague and said some irrelevant remarks. My life became an episode of Homeland. I didn’t know what to think, but I now realized that the threats were coming from the very top. And that terrified me.
Later, when I thought about everything, I realized there was a history of blackmail. Back in March 2016, Sanda Raskovic Ivic, in an interview for Free Europe, said that all of her gay friends are “huge Serbs.” I thought this was a stupid, sensationalist move, unworthy of public comment. What does it even mean? That same day, a member of Jadranka’s cabinet asked me to meet at a Dorcol cafeteria. I was instructed that he would come first and then text me to come. When we’re done, I would be the first to leave. He would pay for the coffee. OK. He said he wanted to talk about Sanda’s statement. I was asked, due to the minister’s support for the Pride Parade, to publicly condemn Sanda and her comments. He disagreed when I said I thought it was stupid and asked me to think about it. Hmm, he could be right. I came back to the office with mixed feelings and wrote the most banal statement ever. I wanted to paint everything as absurd and called Sanda “a washer of bloody shirts”. I still feel that this was not untrue. We sent out this statement, tabloids picked it up and the minister thanked us.
Not long after, I was called urgently to her cabinet. I found myself in a room with a couple of people from the Ministry. Nobody told me why I was there, just that they have a great idea. I was also given coffee.
A couple of minutes later, a woman I didn’t know walked into the room, asked me how I was and about my education. I answered, she asked a few more questions and made notes of my answers. She then took out her phone, typed something and showed me a number, I think it was 37,000. If I accept the job at the cabinet, she said, that would be my salary. I told her that this was not my ambition, I was an activist and didn’t want to work in the cabinet. That strange woman sighed and said: OK, then, I guess we’ll have to play this another way.
Pride happened a few days later. Everything went OK. Afterwards, as we’re finishing up, we talked about our impressions and Adam and I left for two weeks’ vacation. It was the end of the season and everything was cheap. We just wanted to not be in Belgrade. Nevertheless, I felt very paranoid and kept thinking that somebody would break into our apartment and kill our cat. A friend who was feeding the cat had to send us pictures every day, confirming that Mejsi was fine.
After we came back, we spent two weeks selling out stuff, cleaning the office, moving documents to other organizations, telling people that we were moving office and looking for a new space. A Roma man from Dorcol was very happy with the old paper we gave him. When the office was nearly empty, he pointed to a rolled-up banner and asked: Can I take this, as well? I need it to cover the roof, this looks like it could do the trick. We told him to take it. It was a banner saying: Pride. Normally.
We took the morning flight to Canada. First, we flew to Amsterdam and then to Calgary. I called my mother one last time. I told her that I was going to Canada for a short while, to see if there were any jobs. We never spoke again. She died a little over a year later. When she was in the hospital, I regularly spoke to an acquaintance who worked there. I asked her to give my mom any medication that could help, I didn’t care about the price. She advised me not to do that. If doctors realized that I was abroad, they would keep asking me to send the money and wouldn’t give my mother the medicine, but sell it to other people. My mom died and my dad killed himself 40 days later. He stepped in front of a train. The family blamed me for everything.
I am very busy with the Afghan and Ukrainian refugee crises these days. I work a lot of overtime. I need the money for bills, mortgage, food and all the rest. For the first time in my life, I have some savings. That kind of goes without saying here. We are back to planning the trips we cancelled because of the pandemic. I want to go to the Maldives, I’ve never been there. I had cancer. I don’t anymore. I go to the doctors without any gifts. And everyone is nice. About a year ago I finished my psychotherapy. When I first talked to my therapist, she told me I had a lot of traumas. We went through all of it with the EMRD technique. I cherish the memories, like the time a photo of my apartment with a swastika splashed all over the front door was used in the show Dogvil at Mikser. I’ve discovered poetry as a way to heal myself. I write poems and one of them seems like a good way to end this article:
The most important thing in war
Is to closely observe
Through an invisible scope
Those defending us
They are the most dangerous
They can smell our blood and fears
They are friends with our insomnia
They know exactly
To point their guns at
Pay me back for that time
That is why I don’t trust my own people.
Translated by Marijana Simic